Opening Word files on a PC with Linux

Published: Monday, January 5, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 5, 2004 at 12:46 a.m.

Q: Can I open Microsoft Word documents on a Linux computer?

A: While Microsoft does not make a version of its Office suite of business programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and so on) for the Linux system, there are alternatives. Many of these Linux programs not only can open Word files but are also inexpensive or in some cases free.

One example is OpenOffice, a free suite of programs that includes Writer, a word processing program; Calc and Impress, spreadsheet and presentation programs; and Draw, a graphics tool. OpenOffice can open and save Word documents, although you may see some quirks in formatting when exchanging files with people who use Microsoft Word.

Versions of OpenOffice for Linux, Mac OS X, Windows and some Unix systems are available for downloading at

AbiWord ( is another free word-processing program that can open some types of Microsoft Word files. There are versions of AbiWord for Linux, Windows, Mac OS X and other operating systems.

Once again, you may have to tweak the fonts and formatting of documents from Word users when opening them in this program.

The Linux Online site ( site has a list of Linux-compatible programs in a variety of categories.

Q: What is the Select Business Card option in the Palm Address Book for?

A: The Palm operating system allows you to designate a particular contact file to use as your electronic business card. When you meet a fellow Palm user, you can beam your business card through your organizer's infrared port to the other Palm with one push of a button.

To use this feature, create an address or locate one in your address file that you want to use as your official contact information. Once you have the selected address on your screen, tap the Menu button. Go to Select Business Card on the drop-down menu. Confirm that this is the address you want to use as your business card.

To beam your electronic business card to a fellow Palm wielder, hold down the Address Book button on the organizer while pointing your Palm at the other person's device.

Q: Do you need special software to have video chats with a Webcam, or can Windows XP handle the job?

A: Both Windows XP and the current version of the Macintosh operating system (Mac OS X 10.3, also known as Panther) have built-in software for basic video chatting by way of a Web camera. Although you can usually use a dial-up connection to have video chats, the picture is likely to be far jerkier than one transmitted over a broadband connection like a DSL or cable modem.

The Windows Messenger program that comes with Windows XP can be used for videoconferencing provided that you and your chat partner each have a Webcam, a Passport account and XP installed on the computer.

Once you have connected your camera and started Windows Messenger, locate the name of the person online you want to chat with. Double-click on the person's name, and when the Conversation window opens, click on Start Camera. An invitation to chat will pop up on your correspondent's screen. More information about Windows Messenger is at www.

Those who use Mac OS X 10.2.5 or later and have a FireWire-based Webcam can use Apple's iChat AV software (included in version 10.3 of Mac OS X) for live video chats with people who have AOL Instant Messenger or .Mac screen names and similar hardware. You can read more about iChat AV at

Many cameras will also work with free video-enabled instant messaging programs like Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger. The Conferencing on the Web page ( maintained by the consulting firm Think of It has a list of links to various types of software for online videoconferences.

Circuits invites questions about computer-based technology, by e-mail to

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